VENTURA, Calif. — When the latest stay-at-home order threatened to cancel Ventura County Ballet's annual production of the holiday classic, The Nutcracker, everyone involved was forced to think on his or her feet.

Emma Steiner, a 15-year-old dancer, has been performing in the show for as long as she can remember.

"I've been doing this Nutcracker since I was 5 years old," she said. "I'm always really excited to participate."

During this roller coaster year, she was concerned, but Steiner said she never doubted that the show would go on.

"I knew that our studio and company would definitely find a way to pull it off and bring us some holiday joy," she said.

In reality, it came very close to not happening. The company had planned to perform a two-show day on Saturday, December 12, on the Concerts in Your Car stage at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. The show was ready to go after months of rehearsing.

"Then, we got the lockdown order," Steiner said.

With sweeping new restrictions set to go into effect late Sunday, The Nutcracker was canceled. Kathleen Noblin, the founder and executive director of the Ventura County Ballet, was heartbroken.

"I was just devastated yesterday, and then Vincenzo made this offer to us, and it was like a godsend for us," she said.

Vincenzo Giammanco of CBF Productions arranged for the ballet to perform a week earlier than planned. Giammanco runs the stage and produces Holidays in Your Car at the same location. He squeezed in one performance for family and friends before the curfew began Sunday. 

Giammanco called it a "total team effort," with CBF Productions, Darvik Productions and Entertainment Technology all donating their time to make the production possible. They also filmed it so Noblin can stream it, hopefully, making up some of the costs the nonprofit company had already incurred.

The Nutcracker expenses plus lost revenue from canceled recitals and fundraisers put Ventura County Ballet in a difficult position.

"We're in a world of hurt right now, but we keep going, and we're going to have a wonderful show," Noblin said.

Despite the last-minute date change and a number of adjustments for COVID, the shorter production of The Nutcracker included half the usual number of dancers. All of the performers except the two professional leads who were tested for COVID-19 wore masks.

"They [performers] wear masks on stage. We have masks to go with the costumes. Not only do we have the costume, now we have the costume mask!" Noblin said.

After 22 years of producing The Nutcracker, Noblin was thrilled she could continue the tradition.

"My ego doesn't have to have this, but these children have worked, and they worked very, very hard. You know, they have school taken away from them, their friends are taken away from them, their playgrounds are taken away from them, their ballet is taken away from them, and this performance is, kind of, the culmination of saying, 'we can do it, and we will last,'" Noblin said.

In the end, Steiner called it a Nutcracker to remember, from the novelty of dancing outdoors on a chilly December night to the car horns that replaced applause from the audience.

"I really liked the honking at the end," Steiner laughed. "I thought it just definitely fit 2020."

She said now that she has performed The Nutcracker and danced with her friends, her holiday season is complete – making it the perfect way to wrap up the year with a much-needed little bow.